November 28, 2010

Dissecting Andy Reid.

Early in the third quarter of today's Philadelphia Eagles/Chicago Bears showdown, the Eagles faced 3rd and 10 from their own 31-yard line. As the play clock neared zero, Andy Reid called a timeout to avoid a five-yard false start penalty. However, his subsequent playcall, a ho-hum LeSean McCoy run, brought the offense nowhere near the first-down marker.

Much later, the team was looking at 4th and goal from the Chicago Bears' 18-yard line. Trailing by 15 points with only roughly five minutes left in the fourth quarter, the Eagles needed two touchdowns and a two-point conversion to tie. However, Reid decided to kick a field goal rather than go for seven, a call that the coach could barely defend in his post-game press conference.

We all know what happened next. Before I go any further, let the record show that I think defensive miscues (poor tackling in particular) cost the Eagles today's game, not these two coaching decisions. When ne'er-do-well quarterback Jay Cutler torches your defense for his best game in a Bears uniform, complete with a hard-to-believe zero interceptions, it's hard to put the blame anywhere but there.

But the question remains, one that has bogged Andy Reid and his staff for the entirety of his 12-year stay as Eagles head coach: Why does he make decisions like these?

Are they emotional in nature? If the Eagles fail to convert on a lengthy 4th and goal, the game's basically over. The field goal inspires a bit of hope; you're three points closer, even if those points really don't matter. Maybe he found this option more uplifting than potentially walking away with nothing.

Same for the wasted timeout; accepting an avoidable penalty might be seen as a sign of weakness. The Bears had just driven down the field and scored; an Eagles delay of game would have whipped their fans into even more of a frenzy. Plus, what if McCoy breaks that run for a touchdown? Reid might argue that a well-executed play can be as important as a timeout.

Of course, I'm just playing devil's advocate. I have no idea what runs through Andy Reid's head. Maybe moves like these are an inescapable flaw in his coaching strategy. Is it a knee-jerk reaction to burn a timeout rather than take a penalty? As Ray Didinger just said on "Eagles Postgame Live," timeouts are precious commodities, although Reid doesn't always seem to agree.

But a more telling comment from "Postgame Live" came from Vaughn Hebron and Ed Rendell, who mentioned that Reid should consider hiring a quality control coach to monitor his timeout usage, clock management and other areas of weakness. Basically, someone authorized to meet with Reid and explain alternatives to past actions, pointing out where the coach went wrong and how to improve.

Is it realistic that an NFL head coach with five NFC Championship Games, one Super Bowl visit and several coach of the year awards on his resume would consider this? Probably not. Would it even make a difference? Given that few people, even Eagles analysts like Didinger and Hebron, know the dynamics of the team's coaching staff, that's also a big fat unknown.

This terrific Eagles midseason run has masked the fact that they remain a flawed team. The defense played way over its head for a few weeks, but Cutler and his rag-tag gang of no-names carved them up. The offensive line may have gelled a bit, but Vick's still gonna take his share of heavy hits. The whole house of cards would probably tumble, in fact, if any prominent player suffered a serious injury.

So when you add a dash of "questionable basic coaching decisions" to a recipe that includes a young offense, a questionable defense, a recently incarcerated quarterback and iffy special teams, odds are you won't cook up a Super Bowl winner. The Eagles could certainly buck that trend, but not with performances like today's.

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